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How Ubisoft is embracing the cloud

Game developer Ubisoft has been tapping cloud computing to overcome the constraints of game development and create gaming experiences that live on for years to come

From mountain peaks and medieval villages to neon-lit cityscapes, the virtual universe created by game developers is as breathtaking for gamers as it is for them.

For game developers, the sheer amount of computing resources needed to bring these virtual worlds to life is just as breathtaking – even as hardware performance has improved over time.

“Game developers since the dawn of the video game industry have been constrained by the hardware,” said Darryl Long, managing director for Singapore at Ubisoft, a publisher of top game titles such as Far cry and Assassin’s creed.

“Our ambitions are to create these huge living worlds, but you can’t fit them into memory, or the processors aren’t strong enough,” he added.

The advent of cloud computing has helped to ease the technology constraints, opening the doors for game developers to create even richer and more immersive worlds. “The cloud is a scalable platform – if you need more processing power or storage, you can get it and you can scale up and down depending on the load,” said Long.

For Ubisoft, that means delivering “always-on” gaming experiences where artificial intelligence powered game environments can keep evolving even after the player leaves the game.

“For example, if you’re playing Assassin’s creed and you power down your PlayStation, the game stops,” he said. “But with the cloud the game can keep running, even when you’re not there. In fact, other players could be in your world, playing in a shared environment at the same time, and the cloud enables us to scale up and down based on the number of players.”

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Against this backdrop, Ubisoft has been shoring up its investments in technology infrastructure, including cloud computing. Besides working with public cloud suppliers, it also acquired i3D, a cloud hosting service provider for the gaming industry.

“We’re doing this so that we can make sure we’re an early adopter of these technologies,” said Long, adding that Ubisoft is also actively looking to move its big titles onto mobile gaming platforms which have grown in popularity and market share over the years.

To help its developers build game elements in a flexible and automatic manner and speed up the time it takes to create intricate game worlds, Ubisoft also created the proprietary Anvil game engine from scratch over a decade ago.

“Taking our game engines that traditionally were designed to work on consoles and PCs and moving them towards new platforms like the cloud is obviously a huge investment and a huge challenge for us,” said Long.

While he could not talk about the technologies that Ubisoft is using to make that transition to new gaming platforms, he said the company has been working closely with its partners and cloud providers to ensure it is at the forefront of technology adoption.

The future of gaming

Moving forward, Long said games are likely to live on for years, with new content, features and abilities being added over time. These “evergreen titles”, said Long, require a shift in the way games are built.

“Building games has become a lot more about building an infrastructure,” Long said. “When you’re writing the code of a game, you can’t cut corners the way you used to, and you really need to build something that’s scalable and extensible.

“So, you need to build in a plug-and-play manner where you take components, rip them out, replace them and turn on and off features dynamically,” he added. “The mobile app industry has led the way in that revolution and the video game industry has learned from it.”

According to the latest Global games market report by Newzoo, the gaming market is expected to continue its growth amid the pandemic and is forecast to generate $217.9bn by 2023.

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